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Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part VI: Baseball Off-Day [II]
Sep 13th, 2009 by Dan

Domo-kun just before sneaking across the Kintai-kyo without paying admission or being a part of the samurai caste.

Domo-kun just before sneaking across the Kintai-kyo without paying admission or being a part of the samurai caste.

Our first baseball off-day and we spent it traveling throughout the area. From Hiroshima we headed out to Iwakuni, Miyajima, and then back to Hiroshima to see the Peace Memorial.

The morning started off with the usual optional day tour to see the sights in the area. Dave and I were eager to head to Iwakuni and see the famous samurai bridge Kintai-kyo. Historical accounts state that the bridge was only usable by the samurai caste back in the day and the whole thing was constructed completely without nails.

Dave did not sneak across the bridge, but hes part of the samurai caste, so he crossed for free.

Dave did not sneak across the bridge, but he's part of the samurai caste, so he crossed for free.

Like most monuments or historical buildings in Japan, the original bridge was destroyed by a typhoon, but was faithfully recreated in precisely the same way (although I think they used nails in certain key places to prevent future typhoon damage).

Don, a fellow tourgoer, crossing the bridge.

Don, a fellow tourgoer, crossing the bridge.

Across the bridge, up on the hillside, sits the also-famous Iwakuni Castle, so we paid our combined admission fee to cross the bridge, take the gondola up the hill, and see the castle.

There it is in the distance. Squint if you have to.

There it is in the distance. Squint if you have to.

The bridge itself was pretty cool and it allowed for some great views of the Nishiki River below us. Across the bridge is a town sort of devoted to tourism and the maintenance of the grounds. There are a bunch of shops, some cool photo opportunities, and a shrine near the gondola to pray and make offerings at.

Best photo of the day.

Best photo of the day.

Of course, you can’t get up a giant slope (easily) without a gondola, so we queued up and learned that the tiny cars we’d be taking to the summit were supposed to fit 30 people. That would be 30 Japanese people, mind you, so beyond the usual size increase that you can expect from Americans, our tour did include some of the larger, stereotypical type. It made for a crammed space that would be hell for the claustrophobic and was also uncomfortably hot thanks to the sun shining through the windows. Insult was added to injury as one of the Japanese operators made a gesture by puffing out his cheeks and holding his arms out to the effect that we were fat Americans and laughed at us. As a non-fat American, I wasn’t too bugged by this, but it was a remarkably rude action considering that the Japanese make an effort to be polite 99% of the time.

It was crowded and hot.

It was crowded and hot...

One remarkable view later, we were at the top of the mountain/hill thing looking out over the beauty of the Iwakuni landscape. A short walk up the tourist path took us to Iwakuni Castle.

...but worth it in the end.

...but worth it in the end.

I think the thing I love most about going to culturally distinct (read: non-Western) parts of the world is seeing the way that they developed along parallel, but wildly different paths. One of the most obvious examples of this is the way that the East and West designed castles. We’ve all seen plenty of Western castles. They’ve got ramparts and they’re surrounded by walls, etc. Eastern castles all have verticality and tend to look a bit like pagodas. For all their differences, one thing they both (can) have in common would be the inclusion of moats.

However, Iwakuni Castle does not have a moat. Elevation protects this place.

However, Iwakuni Castle does not have a moat. Elevation protects this place.

Iwakuni Castle was nothing too special, its floors were filled with museum pieces that you might expect, samurai armour, old pictures of the areas, a model of the bridge, swords, firearms, and decorative pieces, while its top floor housed an observatory deck. We headed back down the gondola and caught a train to Hatsukaichi to see the famous Miyajima (shrine island).

I spelled it all British-style in my post.

I spelled it all British-style in my post.

Why is the island so famous? It’s got an ever popular and often photographed Shinto-style torii (gate). Chances are, you’ve seen a picture of this at some point in your life. To get to the island, we boarded a ferry and Susan told Dave and I about the robust deer population. While it’s not as intense as the deer population on Nara, Miyajima is full of seriously domesticated/adjusted deer who don’t even react to human proximity. No lie, I accidentally stepped on one while taking a picture and the little guy didn’t even react to me nudging it with my feet.

Grazing (posing?) with the torii in the background.

Grazing (posing?) with the torii in the background.

My favorite moment on the island had to be when we came upon a group of Japanese guys taking a picture holding up Bullwinkle-style antlers to his head while next to a buck. When we asked them to take a photo, he instead opted to throw up a different set of horns, which was also pretty awesome, so I forgive him.

That dude is totally metal.

That dude is totally metal.

We got some fantastic shots near the gate and started to head back to the ferry when we were lured into an oyster shop by an enterprising saleswoman. At great risk for missing the ferry and being separated from the tour group, we waited for her to cook the oysters and then made a mad dash, oysters in hand, to the ferry to the mainland.

So good...

So good...

The oysters were fantastic. So fantastic, they deserved their own paragraph.

No, seriously, they were awesome.

No, seriously, they were awesome.

With that, our morning was over and we had seen two great sights. There was still plenty of day to go, so we hopped aboard a train headed back to Hiroshima. Our destination would be just outside the A-Bomb Dome.

Its amazing that its still standing to this day.

It's amazing that it's still standing to this day.

There is something powerful and deeply affecting about standing 150 meters away from where the first atomic bomb attack occurred. Plain and simple, I stood in complete awe as I took in the Genbaku Dome (AKA A-Bomb Dome, AKA Hiroshima Peace Memorial), saw its bare walls barely standing, its dome a stripped husk of steel, and then looked around at the Hiroshima that surrounded it, fully rebuilt, fully alive, and fully defiant of the atrocity that took place in that very spot 64 years ago. I say atrocity, not because I find the reasons behind the atomic bomb to be faulty, but because I find war atrocious. 70,000-80,000 people died as a result of that bomb. The Aloi Bridge, intended target, stood behind me, but the actual hypocenter was 240 meters from that, above the former Shima Surgical Clinic. I’m not going to get too much deeper into this, but if there’s one thing I took from standing outside that dome, it’s that atomic bombs should never be used again.

If you look closely, theres a bird living up there.

If you look closely, there's a bird living up there.

From the dome, Dave and I wandered around Hiroshima, noticing statues that bore evidence of the blast and were used to determine the hypocenter. Eventually we came across the Children’s Peace Monument, dedicated to the memory of Sadako Sasaki, a hibakusha (literally “explosion-affected people”) who did not develop leukemia until ten years after the bomb. Desperate to live, she began folding paper cranes with the idea that by folding 1000 paper cranes, she would be granted a wish, according to a Japanese saying. While she did fold over 1000 paper cranes, she still died at age 12 from radiation she was exposed to ten years prior.

The Hiroshima Childrens Peace Monument

The Hiroshima Children's Peace Monument

The monument itself is nice and it’s surrounded by transparent rooms containing thousands of paper cranes sent in by children around the world.

If you look closely, you can see the Peace Flame

If you look closely, you can see the Peace Flame

From the monument, we wandered toward the Memorial Peace Park and the museum, stopping to take note of the Memorial Cenotaph, which contains the names of all hibakusha who have died and the Peace Flame, which is not an eternal flame, per se. Its fires will be extinguished only when there are no longer any nuclear bombs on the planet and we are “free from the threat of nuclear annihilation.”

The cenotaph was designed so that you can see the Peace Flame and the Peace Memorial through its arch.

The cenotaph was designed so that you can see the Peace Flame and the Peace Memorial through its arch.

Anyone who remembers the huge controversy a few years ago between Japan and China over Japanese textbooks omitting atrocities they committed in World War II knows that Japan, unlike Germany where it is illegal to deny the holocaust or display Nazi iconography, has sometimes tended to forget about their role in WWII. With that in mind, I entered the museum and found that, contrary to expectations, the museum was almost completely even-handed in its treatment of the subject. The message was clear: nuclear weapons are evil and should be eliminated, but there was almost no Japanese bias. In fact, the only Japanese “spin” was that World War II was called the Pacific War, the name it’s given within the country. I came out of the museum deeply affected by the accounts of the victims, some small children, who were incinerated, had the flesh burned off their bodies, or just suffered complications further in life as a result of a blast that couldn’t have lasted longer than half a minute. Stories of victims flinging their still burning bodies into the river for relief took shape within my mind and, despite my already pacifist leanings, I think I left there with a changed point of view about how completely unnecessary wars of aggression are and just how dire the consequences can be.

A shot from inside the museum

A shot from inside the museum

Our long day was finally over, so we went back to the hotel to relax and rest up for dinner that night. On the menu, yakiniku. Unfortunately, I left my camera at home by accident, so I don’t have any pictures of the fun.

For those unfamiliar with the term, yakiniku is a Korean style barbeque where grills are set in the table in front of the customers and raw meat is brought out (typically in an all-you-can-eat in a certain amount of time style) for the patrons to cook and eat. It’s fantastic and I have yet to find a good, authentic (to the degree that the Japanized version of a Korean style of cooking can be) Korean BBQ place in the States.

Thanks, in small part, to the insistence of Dave, Susan, and myself, we also convinced Bob and Mayumi that we absolutely had to go to a karaoke box that night to truly get a feel for Japan. Demand to sing was so high that we had to rent out two rooms for our party and we sang well into the night to the likes of Queen, Neil Diamond, Garbage, Gackt, Madonna, and The Beatles. It works something like this:

1. You enter the room with an agreed-upon rate per hour (or per person per hour in some cases).
2. Drinks are ordered via a telephone in the room.
3. There is a television in the room and a small computer in which participants can enter the numeric codes (found in the songbooks) of the song they’d like to sing
4. Song starts.
5. People sing.
6. Repeat steps 3-5 until you are hoarse, tired, or both.

It was a total blast and I’m glad that I’ve spent so much time destroying people’s eardrums in Rock Band that I was barely nervous at all about singing. Our room was full of energy and nearly everyone sang until midnight.

It was time to go back to the room and sleep, tomorrow we would return to baseball (and Tokyo!).

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part V: Temples, Taxis, and the (Hiroshima) Toyo Carp [II]
Sep 12th, 2009 by Dan

Brilliant Advertising

Brilliant Advertising

Today’s story is no ordinary tale. It is the story of how two otherwise ordinary men became extraordinary. This is the story of how Dave and I overcame obstacles and became the Official Japanball Vice-Presidents of Diplomatic Affairs (and then went to a baseball game).

It started on a day like any other. Dave and I got up as usual for our early morning brief to take a tour of the local sights. On the agenda were Ryōan-ji and Kinkaku-ji, two Buddhist temples in the area. During the briefing I started to feel something getting really hot in my pockets. Alarmed, I started trying to dig through my pockets and felt my change was all really hot and so were my batteries. I successfully pulled all of that out of my pocket and learned an important lesson: Never put your batteries in the same pocket as your coins, lest they complete some sort of bizarre short circuit and set your pants on fire or explode. From then on, I kept my change and my batteries in opposite pockets.

Today’s quick tour of Kyoto was to include a trip to the famous zen rock garden at Ryōan-ji and a visit to the Golden Temple Kinkaku-ji. Dave and I jumped into a cab together and started our day of fun. Much like we love to speak whatever broken, accented version of Japanese to impress, a lot of Japanese service workers will try their hand at speaking English to Westerners. Dave and I were greeted by a friendly taxi driver that morning who wished us a hearty “Good Morning!” and who also asked if we were “brothers.” We instantly thought this cab driver was way cool. We thought he was even cooler when he began taking us down side roads to get to the temple faster, even though we almost hit another car on one of the narrow roads.

Because Dave and I arrived at Ryōan-ji rather early, the rock garden was almost completely empty except for our tour group. This was a great thing, since it allowed the few of us there to really sit and think about the zen of the rock garden. After a few minutes of viewing and introspection, I began exploring the temple.

A mini version of the zen rock garden at Ryōan-ji . From it you can gain mini-enlightenment.

A mini version of the zen rock garden at Ryōan-ji . From it you can gain mini-enlightenment.

It was pretty small and it seemed to have all the things I was used to seeing in anime renditions of Buddhist temples. One particular highlight was the cool dragon art on the wall inside one of the rooms.

Dragon mural on the temple wall.

Dragon mural on the temple wall.

After Ryōan-ji, we hailed yet another cab to get over to Kinkaku-ji. The driver who pulled up was a huge, jolly-looking Japanese fellow who Dave and I named our new favorite taxi driver after he dropped us off and yelled “HAVE A NICE DAY!” The day was just getting better and better.

We arrived at Kinkaku-ji about 15 minutes before it opened, so we had to wait a bit before we could go in. This time the crowds were much larger and several groups of students began arriving and queuing behind our group. Right before 0900 the doorman let in some photographers and what looked like a reporter and then opened the huge gates to admit the rest of us.

A map of Kinkaku-ji

A map of Kinkaku-ji

The Golden Temple is a tremendously beautiful building that sits alongside a pond providing great reflections in the dark. Dave and I marveled at the beauty of it and continued around the complex. I picked up a charm to bless my mother in her old age (her birthday was coming in a few days) and we eventually came upon a tea garden. Since admission was a mere ¥500, Dave and I paid and chose to eat outside.

Kinkaku-ji is beautiful in the morning sun.

Kinkaku-ji is beautiful in the morning sun.

This proved troublesome, since the inside appeared to be an “eat on the floor” style place, but the outside was lined with gravel that had just been watered and had tables (or benches?) with cloths over them. Not wanting to offend, Dave and I stood around looking confused for a bit until a waitress indicated that we were to sit on the benches/tables. Soon after sitting and watching the crowds pass by us, she returned with a tray containing a bowl of strong green tea and a sugar cake for both of us. The cake was beautifully detailed with a rendition of the temple and the mountains in the background and while the tea looked rather brine-y, it was also delicious.

Note the impression of the temple, the mountains, and the gold flakes in the shape of birds

Note the impression of the temple, the mountains, and the gold flakes in the shape of birds

The tea might not look good, but its fantastic.

The tea might not look good, but it's fantastic.

A shot of the tea garden

A shot of the tea garden

Our quick tour done, it was time for us to head back to the hotel and catch the Shinkansen bound for Hiroshima to see the Carp game scheduled for that afternoon. Our taxi driver on the way back had with him a flipbook containing English phrases to point out landmark shrines and vistas along the way. We wondered why he didn’t seem to talk and he held up a sign that said cancer of the larynx. His notecards were a great way to view the sights and he became our official favorite taxi driver of the day, yet again.

Once we arrived back in the hotel, we told Bob about our taxi driver adventures. At that moment Bob was struck with inspiration and he named Dave and I the Official Japanball Vice-Presidents of Diplomatic Affairs, since we seemed to be getting along great with random Japanese citizens and were overall friendly guys. Dave and I were humbled by this appointment, but vowed to do our best to make Bob proud.

One long train ride took us almost to the southwestern tip of Honshū and we dropped off our bags before walking toward the ballpark. One thing I noticed immediately upon arriving in Hiroshima was that the area seems to really love their baseball team. Even within the train station I could see banners for the Carp and the path to the ballpark was lined with Carp-themed banners while fans decked out in bright red Carp jerseys streamed toward the stadium. As an alumnus of the Cornell Big Red, I felt like I was at home among all the red and I officially found my favorite team in the NPB. I may have come out here rooting for the Dragons, but there’s something about that bright red that calls out to me.

Carp fans were among the best Id seen so far. In the distance is their new ballpark.

Carp fans were among the best I'd seen so far. In the distance is their new ballpark.

Mazda Stadium, the home of the Hiroshima Carp, was opened just this year in April, and it really shows. Everything about the ballpark just looks brand new and very nice and it also happens to be the most “Western” seeming ballpark. just based on the way it seems to synergize with the surrounding city. The open air concourses and the fact that you could see the field from almost anywhere in the park make it really seem like a Populous designed stadium. Take from that what you will, but it’s just a beautiful ballpark that shouldn’t be missed. The concessions are all new and seem very nice and they also have two huge gift shops packed to the gills with fans and neat merchandise.

The official full name is Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima, but I will never call it that again.

The official full name is Mazda Zoom-Zoom Stadium Hiroshima, but I will never call it that again.

Carp fans just seemed very spirited to me compared to the Giants and Buffaloes fans we’d seen. They sold out the 32,000 person ballpark and there were many more people in SRO seats trying to catch a view of the game too. Vendors sold all sorts of great food, including local specialties like okanomiyake (prepared the Hiroshima way) and Japanese classics like takoyaki. Like the other ballparks, they also sold hamburgers, hot dogs, and fries to really get the baseball game juices flowing.

Dave buying some okonomiyake at a ballpark vendor.

Dave buying some okonomiyake at a ballpark vendor.

The opponents that day were the Hanshin Tigers, a team referred to as the “soul of Japanese baseball” by many due to their extremely fervent fanbase. Tigers fans showed up in droves and seemed to account for about half of the park’s attendance that day. The amount of gear and apparel they all wore to represent was astounding. I really can’t wait to see them in their home town later on this tour.

Tigers fans really know how to root for a team.

Tigers fans really know how to root for a team.

There is a very Japanese element to fans of Japanese teams that is truly incredible. They don’t just go to games, they go to games. Fans show up with bags full of gear, from jerseys, shirts, and caps to fans, cell phone straps, and what I’m calling boom sticks. Those boom sticks are team-branded plastic, bat-shaped noisemakers that they bang together instead of clapping during cheers and the like. Like I said before, they start cheering slightly before the game and they don’t stop for one second until the final pitch is thrown in the 9th. That’s slightly inaccurate, they do pause at inning halves and allow the other team to take over cheering for their batters, but they will still cheer for great pitching and plays on the field.

In case you didnt know, cell phone straps are all the rage in Asia. Not so much in the states...

In case you didn't know, cell phone straps are all the rage in Asia. Not so much in the states...

The game itself was a super exciting affair. Before the game I picked up my customary jersey, but this time I had to pick a number, since they only offered player jerseys. Numbers 5 and 16 were sold out, so I went with #2, Akihiro Higashide and boy am I glad that I did. The star of the team is probably #5, Kenta Kurihara, but Higashide is probably the second or third best player on the team and he was responsible for the only Carp run of the day.

Despite being home team kryponite, I like to think that purchasing this Akihiro Higashide jersey helped him play as well as he did that day.

Despite being home team kryponite, I like to think that purchasing this Akihiro Higashide jersey helped him play as well as he did that day.

After the Carp lost 3-1, Dave and I felt that we were, in fact, terrible luck for home teams. We vowed to see how the rest of the games on the trip went to see if the wins fell along a more predictable statistical path, but after a tie (that only happened because we left) and two losses, we were convinced.

Domo-kun loves the Carp too!

Domo-kun loves the Carp too!

I totally forgot to mention, but Dave and I were adopted around that day by Susan. Our new mother chose not to have children, but since we were already grown up, self-sufficient, and such nice boys, she decided that she would take us in. Since Susan was tons of fun, Dave and I agreed and our second family was born.

Our new mom, Susan, modeling an official Carp cup

Our new mom, Susan, modeling an official Carp cup

That night, Dave was craving more non-ballpark okonomiyake, so Susan, who can speak some Japanese, asked about the best in town and took about 11 of us to the restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant was rather small and wouldn’t sit 11, so we convinced all but 4 to head to another restaurant and tried again. We met with similar success because the chef decided that the four open seats in the restaurant were reserved for future customers. The waiter seemed to think it was ridiculous, but told us that they were “full” according to the chef and profusely apologized. Feeling rather discriminated against, Susan, Dave, Enre (I honestly have no idea how to spell his name), and I found an empty hotel restaurant that served us okonomiyake instead. It was good, but we were bummed that we didn’t get to try the “best in Hiroshima.”

The okanomiyake we ended up eating in the deserted hotel restaurant.

The okanomiyake we ended up eating in the deserted hotel restaurant.

Our day was done, but we had plenty of sights to see the next day, including the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

Hiroshima Carp-themed manhole cover.

Hiroshima Carp-themed manhole cover.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part IV: In Which Our Heroes Depart Tokyo for Kyoto [II]
Sep 10th, 2009 by Dan

Dave doing his best to look gangsta outside of Tokyo Station.

Dave doing his best to look gangsta outside of Tokyo Station.

A day of baseball behind us, our tour was now set to depart Tokyo and journey east to Kyoto, the former capital of Japan. That means that we would get a chance to ride the famous bullet trains for the first time. After a quick taxi to Tokyo Station, Dave and I found ourselves waiting on the platform wondering about the naming conventions behind the various lines of the Shinkansen (the Japanese name for the bullet train). Mayumi broke it down like this: the slowest trains are the Kodama, which means echo. They stop at local stations and generally take longer. The next fastest are the Hikari trains. Hikari means light and, like any good physicist would expect, they are much faster than the Kodama trains. The fastest class of trains is named Nozomi, which means hope. Therefore, hope > 3 x 10^8.

Lost by a nose! Dave vs. a Hikari Shinkansen

Lost by a nose! Dave vs. a Hikari Shinkansen

While waiting on the train Dave and I also noticed a few people smoking, which is nothing too special, until we realized that they were also wearing face masks. It was bizarre to see a man so worried about his health smoking, but, hey, hypocrisy is funny, so enjoy the shot below.

Dave was there so that I wouldnt offend this stranger by taking a random picture of him enjoying a smoke.

Dave was there so that I wouldn't offend this stranger by taking a random picture of him enjoying a smoke.

Cultural lessons from Susan taught us that while Japan is a germaphobic country, the face mask thing is primarily to prevent other citizens from getting sick. They’re so concerned with keeping harmony and not spreading their germs with other people that they keep the masks on at the slightest hint of disease. Still, the vast number of masks that I’ve seen throughout the country make me suspicious that the recent influenza outbreak might have a lot more to do with it than that statement implies.

The train ride was rather long, since we were crossing the entire island, but we eventually made it to Kyoto in the afternoon and stopped to drop our bags off and grab a quick bite to eat. Funny thing about Japan is that while bad people almost certainly have to exist, most everybody is super trusting to the nth degree. Our bags were set in the lobby without any lock or key and we were pretty much guaranteed that no one would touch them just because there was a net over them. Plenty of folks don’t even bother to lock up their bikes when they ride them around. It’s jarring.

It doesnt look like much, but this net is the ultimate theft deterrant.

It doesn't look like much, but this net is the ultimate theft deterrant.

Not yet sick of curry, Dave and I sat down to grab a plate at a place that seemed like it was an Eastern European-themed ale house. They had a robust drink menu that was filled with hilarious Engrish spellings of popular drinks and cocktails. Our meal done, it was time to head right back up to the lobby…after a quick pit stop in the bathroom.

Mmm...Id love a Cuba Lible.

Mmm...I'd love a Cuba Lible.

The entire territory of Japan could easily fit into a good deal of the larger US states. The result of that phenomenon is one of my favorite bits of minutiae related to Japan. In almost every bathroom in Japan (all but one that I’ve observed), the exact same urinals are installed. Thanks to this, all of Japan feels cohesive even when you’re somewhere far away from Tokyo.

Now that we’ve completed that digression, let me get back to the main narrative. Dave and I went up to the lobby and right back out to the Kyoto train station. We were jumping on the Shinkansen again to head up to Skymark Stadium in Kobe, home of the Orix Buffaloes. I cannot emphasize enough how great the rail system in Japan is. Throughout this whole day our train has arrived precisely when it’s been slated to arrive on our tickets and in the station to the minute. Not a delay in sight. Longer Shinkansen rides all feature “stewardesses” who push a cart down the aisles selling food and drinks.

The trains are also filled with friendly people. On our way to Kyoto, Dave and I met a man who went to RIT and worked for Eastman Kodak. At first I found his English very hard to understand, but eventually I got it down and we were able to speak to each other just fine. Thanks to him I learned about the surrounding areas, where Mt. Fuji was, about Toyota in Nagoya, and about how he likes to American football and “Science Fridays” on NPR. It was definitely a pleasant train ride, even if I was exhausted. There was just too much going on to try and sleep.

The approach to Skymark Stadium from just outside the station.

The approach to Skymark Stadium from just outside the station.

Didn’t I just end all the digressions? Rejuvenated from our curry, we arrived in Kobe just steps away from the stadium itself. There was a concessions stand right nearby, some ticket vendors, a nice fountain, and a nice park in the area, but otherwise not much of anything at all. The question of how I’d commemorate my Japanese stadium visits came up again since I hadn’t resolved the conundrum at the Tokyo Dome, so I went over to check out the stand.

I didnt really see any ticket windows, but can this really be the ticket booth for Skymark?

I didn't really see any ticket windows, but can this really be the ticket booth for Skymark?

For my visits to American stadiums, I buy fitted caps from the ballpark and take them home, but I noticed last night that the Giants had no fitted caps that I could find and that just wouldn’t do. The other options, their noisemakers and other miscellaneous charms just didn’t feel right either. I noticed that the Bs, as their team name is often shortened to, had jerseys available for only ¥3500, an amount cheaper than some of the caps I buy. It was settled and the collection began.

One of the entrances to Skymark Stadium.

One of the entrances to Skymark Stadium.

We actually entered the ballpark after I threw on the jersey and noticed that it seemed a lot smaller and emptier than the Tokyo Dome. Someone explained to me that Skymark Stadium is actually the alternate stadium for the Bs while the Kyocera Dome is the primary and I definitely believe that. Skymark is very nice, but it’s also very small and the concessions seemed underdeveloped. In fact, some of the foodstuffs ran out by the third inning. The comparative attendance was also rather lacking compared to the Dome, but then again it was a day game on a work day (that’s right, they work on Saturdays out in Japan).

The Marines fan section came out in full force, but the stadium is very empty.

The Marines fan section came out in full force, but the stadium is very empty.

Now that I’ve been to two stadiums, I feel that I can start to make some genuine observations about Japanese baseball. The first thing I noticed was that the pitchers are constantly being worked and worked hard. In between innings it’s common to see the pitcher just tossing the ball around with another player to keep loose and warm. On the mound they seem to throw until the managers feel they’ve thrown enough. I remember seeing a pitcher up to 120 or so pitches by the fourth or fifth inning and he stayed in the game until the sixth or seventh. I’ve also noticed that Japanese pitchers tend to pitch a little slower than their American counterparts. Very rarely did I see pitches pass 144 km/hr, which roughly translates to 90 mph.

Buffaloes fans LOVE Tuffy. Hes been in Japan so long that he doesnt even count as a foreign player. The Bs have a history of embracing foreign players.

Buffaloes fans LOVE Tuffy. He's been in Japan so long that he doesn't even count as a foreign player. The Bs have a history of embracing foreign players.

The number of hits appears to be huge compared to the number of runs scored. In the MLB, if you had a game with a combined hit count in the 20s, you can bet that it would be a blowout or a game whose score was 8-9. This is the status quo out here in Japan thanks to all of the selfless hitting. Huge hit counts, but also a lot of men left on base between innings.

Like last game, I noticed a lot more small ball being played at the plate. Hit and runs, bunts to advance the runner, and chops to ensure safe baserunning are the norm. Also normal are the ōendan I mentioned last time. The opposing team brought in a huge crowd, yet again, and they filled up the left field bleachers and went crazy. It’s one thing to cheer like a nutcase all game to prove you love your team. It’s another to travel from Chiba to Kobe, sit in the 90+°F sun, and jump up and down like the Marines cheer squad. These guys seriously were hopping in an alternating formation during a large number of their cheers. I almost got heat stroke just watching them.

Speaking of the heat, the lack of a dome reminded me just how much I love both afternoon baseball and outdoor baseball. It’s much harder to stay properly hydrated, but it’s so much better to be out in the sun enjoying a ballgame instead of in a stuffy, climate-controlled room. I could rant for hours on this topic, so I’ll spare you all the arguments about why non-retractable domes are way less cool.

The Buffaloes mascots. Note that they are NOT buffaloes nor do they look like buffaloes.

The Buffaloes mascots. Note that they are NOT buffaloes nor do they look like buffaloes.

Like the Giants, the Buffaloes also had mascots that seemed to have nothing to do with the team name at all. Neppie and Ripsea are vaguely cowboy-themed white folk and look nothing like buffaloes. Missed opportunity. Their posse did include cheerleaders, rather like the Giants, and during the 7th inning stretch they also snag their fight song, but there were no balloons yet again.

One peculiarity in this ballpark was that they played the Marines fight song during the 6th inning. Our friend Susan said it was to be polite, which is absolutely crazy when compared to Western baseball, but it makes good sense in this case. Where else but in Japan, where the home team gives retail space to the opposing teams for merchandise whose profits will go to the opposing teams would it be ok to listen to another team’s fight song in the 6th?

Despite my Bs jersey, I was impressed by the gusto shown by the Marines, so I was rooting for them to win. Things got interesting when, yet again, the game was tied up and went into extra innings. Dave and I feared that we’d have another 12 inning affair on our hands, but luckily (for the Marines) the score was increased to a respectable 6-3 Marines, giving the visiting team the win, which means that for two straight games the home team has not won. Since Dave and I left during the 8th and the Giants tied it up, we’re pretty sure that we’re home team kryptonite.

One last thing to mention about the game: It seems like the foreign-born players don’t hustle as much as the Japanese-born ones. That could be because they’re older and fatter, but it could also be a cultural thing.

After the game we took the train back over to Kyoto. It was already getting to be rather late, so Dave and I decided to take it easy for the night. We crossed through the station looking for food in the large, 12-story shopping center Bob told us about earlier in the day. After taking the escalators all the way up, we understood why this place was recommended. The views were spectacular all around, but it was too dark for most of the pictures to really come out all that well. We had a quick meal in a nondescript place and headed back to the room after resolving to return in the morning to capture that view.

Ive transcended happy and landed fimly in scary territory here.

I've transcended happy and landed fimly in scary territory here.

Another day was over. It was time to rest up for tomorrow.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part III: Play Ball! [II]
Sep 6th, 2009 by Dan

Jet lag is always a bit difficult to overcome, but when you’ve flown to the other side of the world, the body really doesn’t know what to do with itself. So it came to pass that I wrote the whole second half of Part II of this travelogue at 0600 after a half hour of tossing and turning, despite being on almost no sleep. This third part comes straight from my exhausted fingers to you, starting before the first Giants game and continuing after getting back to the hotel.

Our bright morning begins at 0830 for a quick pre-trip briefing. Dave and I quickly learn that we are most definitely the youngest members of the group. There are maybe four or five people on the tour younger than 30 and certainly none in their early twenties like us. Bob thankfully runs a rather loose ship, allowing us to mostly do what we want throughout the day instead of being forced to do one thing at all times. We meet up for trains and ballgames and that’s about it. Once the main tour departs, I won’t even have that, since Bob and Mayumi plan to head off on their own.

Mayumi offered to head to Sensō-ji Temple, the oldest temple in Tokyo, and Dave and I decided to go along. Our hotel is near private railway lines and the Tokyo Metro, so we hopped aboard, allowing me to experience the metro firsthand. It most resembles the DC Metro, since it requires you to pay a fare based on how far you travel, which is rather unfortunate, but the trains arrive almost 800 times faster and more regularly, so the comparison clearly only goes so far.

Sensō-ji’s main features are the iconic giant lanterns that adorn the center of each of the gates of the temple. In between the two gates, the area is packed to the gills with vendors and stalls selling food, typical Japanese souvenirs, toys, clothes, and video games. The temple itself is a rather loose compound with shops flanking it on all sides along with a Shinto shrine. Dave and I explored the area a bit, but decided not to get souvenirs right away since it was still early in the trip. The temple was also fully populated with hordes of schoolchildren, all in uniform visiting the shrine on class trips. Even very small children were on trips to the temple, carried by hilarious carts like children on hand-pushed buses. Apparently they do this in other big cities in America, but I’d never seen it before so Dave and I quickly took to accusing the cart pushers of kidnapping all the kids in the carts.

The outer gate has a huge lantern

The outer gate has a huge lantern

After our temple visit, we had free time until the game, so Dave and I decided to go eat lunch and hit up Akihabara again. Since CoCo Curry is on the way to Akihabara and it’s so good, Dave and I had yet another lunch there that I thoroughly enjoyed. Since we were visiting in the daytime, Akihabara looked a lot more like it should complete with alleys bursting with electronic components. In the distance I spotted Pac-Man ghosts chasing an 8-bit Mario and assumed that it had to be some sort of retro-game store. Since I was looking for a copy of Mother 3 to validate a translated ROM, Dave and I headed toward it to check it out.

If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.

If this doesn't scream retro game shop, I don't know what does.

Once we got closer, it became immediately obvious that we were standing at the door of a Super Potato, Japan’s most famous video game collectors store. The interior is divided up loosely chronologically, with early systems like the Famicom, MSX, and PC Engine situated on the first floor of the shop, Super Famicom and Mega Drive on the second floor of the shop, and Playstation, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, GB and GBA at the top of the games sections (game soundtracks also lived on this floor). The topmost floor was a retro-game arcade that had some seriously old arcade cabinets and some seriously awesome decorations and all of the floors had collectibles and toys from famous franchises.

BIG BOSS!

BIG BOSS!

My hunt for Mother 3 did not go so well at first, mostly because it seemed that there were no used copies sitting around the shelves. I walked up to the counter on that floor, said “Mother 3″ in the most inquisitive way possible, and just looked confused. At first I didn’t think they understood what I meant, but they helped me look a bit and didn’t find it. Before I could get too dejected, the other guy behind the counter pulled out a new cartridge in the Japanese-style GBA box. My wallet was lightened by about ¥3600, but I was now the owner of a brand new Mother 3 cart. Mission Complete! S-Rank!

I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato

I was able to find a new copy of Mother 3 at the Super Potato

I can’t forget to mention that we also found a pretty sweet capsule machine that sold keychains that made noises from the Mario series. I got a coin keychain for ¥200. Dave became less enthused by my antics by the end of the day, but that coin sound is just spot on and super fun. BONUS FACT: I believe they use one of these during the 4-Minute Warning section of Listen Up! on 1up.com.

Our quest for games satisfied, we decided to go into a music store next. My goal was to find the one Sambomaster CD I couldn’t import into the states. Unfortunately, the Japanese system of organization eluded me. We thought that maybe they adopted a Roman ordering based on sounds because we seemed to see bands with English names clustered around each other if they had the same letters, but our theory was quickly dashed and we were left wandering the store confused. My next idea was to walk up to a sales clerk, show her the entry for Sambomaster on my iPod (it’s written in kanji or katakana, I don’t know which), and pray that she could lead us to it. It turned out that the Sambomaster section was literally right behind us on the shelf and they also had the album I was looking for. Another successful mission.

Dave and I decided to try to head into a Sofmap again and climbed our way to the top floor to check out some video games. The selection was pretty enormous, complete with Xbox 360, PS2 and PS3, PSP, Wii, and DS games. Some of the DS games had way cooler boxart than the ones we’re used to. The worst part about the music store was seeing the games I most want to come out in the states, the Powapuro series, sitting in the store mocking me. Both the NPB edition and MLB Power Pros 2009 were sitting right there. I will be investigating ways to play Japanese games at home while I’m out here, since I know I can manage to play a Japanese baseball game with no knowledge of the language.

Please come to the states!

Please come to the states!

Our walk back to the hotel passed by a Shinto shrine, which housed a much smaller, single shop just outside. At this shrine I did not drink any water, but I did wash my hands and I took a picture of the board with all the ema. On our way out we noticed a tanuki statue. Not sure if you readers are aware, but tanuki in folklore have famously large testicles in Japan. It’s insane.

Hes got large...tracts of land?

He's got large...tracts of land?

We got back to the hotel room and noticed that the “Do not clean” sign we put up was gone and the room was clean. I wonder why we even bothered…

It was in and out time for our first baseball game. The matchup was the Yomiuri Giants vs. the Yakult Swallows in the Tokyo Dome. The Dome itself is located in a giant entertainment complex in Tokyo with an amusement park and a mall right across the street. Bob took us to the top of a nearby building to get a good view of the surroundings and then set us loose until game time. We had about an hour to kill and Dave and I noticed that there was a roller coaster that spiraled through and around the buildings that composed the amusement park. We decided to investigate, along with our new travel buddy Susan.

You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!

You can see the coaster crossing through the ferris wheel here. Great thrill or accident waiting to happen? You decide!

When we got to the coaster, heretofore known as Thunder Dolphin, we saw that it cost ¥1000 (~$10) to ride, but we weren’t going to let that discourage us. Susan opted not to ride, but we barreled up the steps, hoped we bought admission (the machine was in Japanese), and queued up. The coaster had lockers on the other side for passengers to pack their belongings in, so we headed over and emptied out and got on the coaster. If you check Dave’s pictures, you know by now that this coaster was built with extreme in mind. The first drop is at a 72° angle, for heaven’s sake, and everything is very tight and compressed since it’s in the city. It’s an intense roller coaster that was tons of fun! I just wish we could have gone on it again for free.

What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?

What is a Thunder Dolphin anyway?

The coaster put us at just the right time to enter the Dome, which, unlike other ballparks in the states, had restaurants and shops on the outside. We queued at our gate, got to the rotating glass doors, and awaited the attendant-allowed opportunity to walk through the doors. Turns out, they keep the dome tightly sealed, because our ears all popped upon entering the dome, which is also kept at a Tokyo-warm 77-80°F, but there we were, within the Tokyo Dome, home of the most famous baseball team in Japan.

The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.

The outside of the dome is Giants-themed.

It’s said that the Giants are rather like the Yankees of Japan and I can kind of see that. The ballpark has a stateliness to it and their team has a low-frills, dignified approach that does away with too much craziness. Their mascots, for some odd reason, are rabbits from space, but we’ll let that slide. Even before the game, a steady stream of concession stand girls were wandering all the aisles, offering coke to the fans. Once the game started, they were joined by the famous beer girls. I once confused the tanks they carried on their backs for hot water for noodles, but the reality is that they’re tasked with roaming their sections all game with a heavy tank of beer strapped to their backs. As they empty out, they head back to their HQ and refill the tanks to go at it again. It’s impressive, considering the size of these girls.

Getting ready to pour us some bieru

Getting ready to pour us some "bieru"

Also immediately obvious were the ōendan (cheer) squads that sit in the outfield bleachers representing both teams. I learned from other members of the tour that admission into those sections is strictly limited by membership in the fan club. To gain membership, you must be willing to travel with the team on a set number of games, know every fight song, know every player-related cheer, and be spirited. They are intense. They started cheering before the game and they continued to cheer with the same intensity to the bitter end (which Dave and I missed…more on that soon).

The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?

The dome is a nice primer on Japanese baseball, but why does it have to be so hot inside?

The ballgame began and after a half-inning of awe at how the Swallows cheer section was going nuts, the Giants were set to come up. We quickly learned that the aura of “bad-assery” that most ballplayers in the states cultivate doesn’t seem to be as necessary out here in Japan, especially since some of the players were coming up to bat to bubbly J-Pop or slow, Japanese ballads. It was bizarre, especially when a foreign, Hispanic player came up to bat and it was not salsa, merengue, or reggaeton.

The game itself is played with small ball in mind a lot more than in the states. We still saw a home run that night, but most of the players were shooting for base hits. Baltimore chops were a common sight to ensure safe baserunner advancement and they bunted freely. Very rarely did they swing for the fences and if they did, it was probably an American player doing it.

The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.

The cheerleaders and the fans doing their routine.

In the 7th inning I learned that there is no stretch out here, just a communal rendition of the Giants fight song along with dancing mascots. The balloon thing was strangely absent, so I have no footage of that either.

It being the first full day out in Tokyo, Dave and I didn’t do so well at staying up through the game. By the 8th inning, we found ourselves sleeping through most of the at-bats and the cheers. Only the roar of the crowd at a great play would rouse us, only to return us unconscious. With the Giants down 3-1 in the top of the 9th, we went back to the hotel to sleep, but it turns out that we made a mistake there. The Giants caught up that inning and tied up the game. Two hours later, the game ended in a tie in the 12th and both teams were pooped. By the way, Japan baseball ends after 12 innings, no matter what. They allow ties.

So that was our first day of baseball. We are headed for Kyoto next and we will use the bullet train to get there and to the Orix Buffaloes game in Kobe. I’ve got to pass out now, I’m dying of exhaustion.

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part II: Journey to the East [II]
Sep 3rd, 2009 by Dan

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

A reenactment of me starting to write this entry in emacs

I begin this entry sitting at the gate for my ANA flight…1 (No joke, my flight number is NH0001), listening to Japanese ska to get into the mood as I await my 1220 flight out of America. As per usual, I got here a good three hours before my flight even was ready to think about starting to take off thanks to something I like to call hyper-punctuality, but I’m sure most would call insanity. In fact, I was so early this morning when I arrived at 0900 that ANA hadn’t even opened up their check-in terminal (don’t worry, I’m sure to repeat this detail later)

To be totally fair, my early arrival was due to a change in plans, for the better. I originally intended to take the Metro into Dulles after parking my car at the lovely Duffy house, but The Legendary John Duffy, as he is known in these parts, volunteered to haul my annoying self and my bags over to the airport after he got his hands on some coffee. After about 40 or so minutes of always riveting conversation with TLJD I found myself once again at Dulles, an airport I mistakenly thought I’d never been to before.

The best way to describe Dulles is slightly confused. At some point, big, modern airports realized that people were getting confused with where to go, since they had multiple buildings housing different terminals. They began to label their terminals numerically or by color. Not wanting to be left in the dust, Dulles seems to have enthusiastically took up this practice for a single terminal. No joke, the one terminal is as long as the terminal devoted solely to Southwest at BWI, but they felt the need to divide it into not just two zones, but four.

So I arrived at zone 3, profusely thanked TLJD for the ride, and boldly stepped up to the ANA terminal…to find that it doesn’t even open until 0920. Before you all laugh at my insanity, consider that there were two families who had arrived before me and another passenger showed up at around 0915. If that doesn’t convince you of my sanity, I don’t know what will.

Seriously dude, dont you have anything better to do with your time?

Seriously dude, don't you have anything better to do with your time?

I will continue to be undeterred by the fact that I’ve written hundreds of words covering the mundane and I have yet to even leave American soil (Hey, I’m *really* early for my flight and I’ve gotta do /something/, cut me some slack!) and continue to regale you all with stories about how my carry-on bag was too heavy by five kilograms. Now, as a man of science, I almost exclusively prefer the metric system for any and all calculations. That being said, I have absolutely zero concept of what a kilogram is. Faced with the threat of having to check my bag, I decided to try and pull out my toiletries and pray that they weighed five kilos. It brought me down to 21.5 kilos, which was good enough for my Japanese travel agent (what’s the job title for those people?) and good enough for me, especially because I was secure in the knowledge that I’d be able to just move my toiletries right back into my carry-on once I was safely seated in the terminal.

Security, miles of walking along people movers to get to the midfield terminal, and here I am. Country music begins to play over my headphones and I rather like the reverse framing going on here. More to come when something actually happens…

I return to this travelogue at 1927 local time on 3 September. In about three minutes, I’ll have been up for 24 hours thanks to the difficulty that I have sleeping on planes. A lot has happened since I was sitting bored in the terminal, so we continue from there.

The staff at ANA seems to be rather small, because when the plane arrives and boarding is being handled, I begin to see all the folks from the ticket counter that I saw in the morning show up and help with boarding. My flight is also eerily empty for some reason. I have an entire row, nine seats, to myself and this is the case for most of the people on the plane, but I guess since I’m on a rather long flight I can deal with the stress of having so much space it’s ridiculous. I can only pray for such a windfall on the way home.

A small moment of panic sets in rather early as I try to discreetly snap a shot of one of the better looking flight attendants for Eric and one of them tells me that I need to put my camera and phone away, there are no electronics. Figuring that she meant while on the runway, I put them away and quickly began searching through the documentation to see what I could find about whether or not I’d be able to use my electronics on this long, 14-hour flight.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

These guys came around so often I nearly burst from all the food.

Since I was flying on a Japanese carrier, I thought I’d point out some of the differences between it and the American one. The seats are a bit closer feeling, to me, all of the information is primarily given in Japanese, then in sometimes difficult-to-understand English, the food is distinctly eastern in style, and the magazines have a small bilingual section if you open them western-style and a large Japanese section if you read it right-to-left. Most everything else is pretty much par for the course, American carrier or not, for an international flight. The warnings and safety measures are in Japanese first and the pictures are of Japanese folk instead of drawings, but all the information appears to be the same.

The other constant among international flights is the food. I was nearly drowning in food as they brought meal after meal after snack, despite undergoing no effort to work up an appetite. The food was all of pretty good quality, for airplane food, and garnered no complaints from me.

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

Ice cream and green tea were to follow

That’s about all there is to say about international flights. They are disappointingly mundane, even when on a Japanese carrier. I’ll leave the topic with some video (sadly without the original audio) of a game show that I was watching on the in-flight entertainment television. The point here was to name the countries of Europe while pounding on beat to a song. You’ll see very quickly what a wrong answer leads to. There’s also one guy there who they liked to pick on for some random reason.

Trust me, it’s even funnier with the sound.

Arrival and customs are not all that special, so I’ll refrain from mentioning them, but I was surprised at how far out of Tokyo the airport seems to be. There are trains leading into the city itself, but they all seem to take quite some time to get to the heart of the city. My plane arrived about an hour early, which is always awesome, unless you’ve been asked by your brother to wait in the airport for him before heading to the hotel. The time I had to myself allowed me to take a look around Narita International Airport and get a feel for what a Japanese airport was yet again. One thing worth noting for people landing in September is that they seem to keep the a/c at a rather toasty 80°F, which is totally understandable, I guess, but feels a bit toasty to those of us used to a lot more climate control. Another thing worth noting is that the fear of communicable disease has yet to clear Japan, especially after the very recent H1N1 troubles that they were having. Notices about sanitation are posted throughout the airport and there are many, staff and patrons alike, wearing masks to shield their face from germs.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

When you deal with thousands a day, sometimes a little protection from germs is nice.

There was also a rather funny graphic on one of the video screens showing how bird flu, I think, started to spread. There was a silhouette of a chicken and what looked like a duck that eventually turned red with “disease” of some sort. From their reddened bodies emanated more evil germs and arrows that infected a standing silhouette man and caused him to drop to all fours and turn red. The man eventually began to shoot out red circles of death to other groups of silhouette men. It was riveting stuff, but I didn’t manage to capture any of it on video before Dave got there.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

After an hour and a half of waiting, guess who decides to show up.

Dave finally landed and Bob lead us down to get our passports checked for the rail passes that we were to make use of throughout the country. We got our tickets and made our way onto the platform where the train was and Dave began enthusiastically getting onto the train only to have the doors begin to close behind him. After a valiant effort to hold the doors open, he was trapped on the train while we looked on from the outside. Except, if he had read the sign that we only saw after he was trapped, he would know that they were just cleaning the train.

Dont get on or youll be trapped Dave!

Don't get on or you'll be trapped Dave!

After he was asked to get off the train, they began cleaning and the train seats actually turned around. They’re on a mechanism that turns them, I guess so that you’re facing the direction the train is headed so you don’t get that disoriented. And so began the ~1 hour long train ride into Tokyo.

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

Skyliner! It hungers for Americans...

It randomly featured a windmill.

Am I in The Netherlands?

Am I in The Netherlands?

Our hotel in Tokyo is pretty nice, it’s got two singles that are surprisingly long so I’m not hanging off the edge. We dropped off our stuff, sent word that we were alive and well, and headed right back out into Tokyo to do some first night exploring and grab a bite to eat. Dave spotted a CoCo Curry on the way over from the train station, so that was our ultimate goal for dinner. At first we headed across a nearby bridge through a Dental University and wound up in a slightly urban area surprisingly filled with tons of instrument stores. There typical classical instrument shops intermixed with way more awesome guitar shops, one of which featured the most Japanese bad ass, hardcore, punk rock guitar I’ve ever seen.

Youve never rocked until youve rocked with Hello Kitty!

You've never rocked until you've rocked with Hello Kitty!

There was also the most awesomely named shop ever, at least for a fan of Metal Gear Solid like me.

This is Big Boss. Im done here.

This is Big Boss. I'm done here.

Dave’s impeccable sense of direction did finally get us to CoCo Curry House without too much stress at all. If you’ve known me for a while, chances are you’ve heard that I have something of an obsession with Japanese curry. Getting back to CoCo curry was definitely high on my list of priorities, but it was thanks to Dave’s sharp eyes that I even knew that there was one nearby.

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

CoCo Curry House Ichibanya: Heaven on Earth

I’ve seen CoCo Curry compared to Burger King in other places, mainly because you can “Have it your way” there, but they really put Burger King to shame with how completely customizable they are. Their (thankfully) English menu offers directions on how to order. First, select a curry base, then how many grams of rice you want, how spicy, and finally, toppings.

The procedure is simple, really, so long as its in English

The procedure is simple, really, so long as it's in English

I went with the staple curry dish, tonkatsu curry (breaded pork cutlets), while Dave opted for the more interesting crab croquette curry. It was delicious.

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

Finally! Great Japanese Curry!

It did not last long on my plate.

Not a grain of rice left.

Not a grain of rice left.

The urge to explore continued after dinner, so Dave and I decided to walk around the town and see what we could find. Not far from the curry, we began seeing girls dressed in maid outfits, no doubt advertising a maid café of some sort. Dave decided not to take a flyer, but I couldn’t resist.

Maids!

Maids!

We saw a tall Sofmap building and I remembered that they tend to sell new games. I dragged Dave along and we coincidentally ended up in an elevator with one of the maid café girls. Shenanigans promptly ensued.

Neither Dave nor I really knew where we were going in this building nor what floor we were headed to and I was unsure whether or not Japan did that ground floor thing, so I pushed 1. The maid girl laughed at us and asked if that’s really where we were going, since that’s the ground floor (I think, I speak no Japanese). The elevator soon made its way up to the top floor of the building and it opened to the maid café advertised, much to our surprise. The place was bright pink and filled with people and maids, but Dave and I very quickly decided it was not the place for us. We tried going to the third floor instead, but we were greeted with a corrugated steel door. The maids in the tiny elevator had a great laugh at our expense. We exited the elevator and asked to take a picture of one of the maids who was now quarter-carding, but she politely told us no.

There’s not much else adventure that went on that night. We made our way to an anime store filled to the brim with goods. They had no picture signs up that I didn’t notice until after I’d snapped two shots.

Tons of manga

Tons of manga

We also found an arcade and wandered around the first two floors a bit.

One of the famous Japanese arcades

One of the famous Japanese arcades

That’s all for the first night, off to explore more of Tokyo!

Super Ichiban Travel Blog Part I: Preface [International Incident]
Sep 2nd, 2009 by Dan

It won’t be the first time I arrive in the Land of the Rising Sun and it probably won’t be the last, but at least it’s all for fun this time. My last journey into Japan took me to Okinawa, an island paradise where I found myself snorkeling and enjoying the beauty of the landscape whenever I was off the clock, but this time I’ll be diving headfirst into three of the four main islands: Honshū, Kyūshū, and Hokkaidō to get a real glimpse of Japan more separate from the US-heavy Okinawa.

Speaking of US-influence, as I write this I’m chowing down on some “Asian” food from the cafeteria and I think this is the perfect way to start my trip. If there’s one thing that America is known for, it’s embracing and adapting the differences of other cultures into the American identity (your mileage may vary, depending on what part of the USA you live in). It’s a side effect of the vastly different ethnic composition of our population slowly integrating into society, etc., etc., but this isn’t an American sociology lesson, so you get my point.

Now, if there’s one thing that Japan is known for, it’s embracing and adapting the things that America does and doing it better. There’s a reason why so much fear existed in the 80’s with respect to the rising industrial power of Japan. Everything about the country just seems like a more intense, slightly odd version of America to the outside. Employees work longer hours, students study harder, the fashion is crazier, and the obsessive obsess harder than anyone here in the states seems to. Watch any half hour of Japanese media, and you’re bound to hear someone yell Ganbare!” enthusiastically to someone who is working hard. It means something like “keep going,” “hang in there,” or “fight” and it exemplifies to me how much the Japanese value doing one’s best and making the most of what they’ve got. I don’t think the Japanese are trying to out-America America; I think they are instead trying to infuse the Yamato spirit into everything they do, no matter where it comes from so that at the end of the day, when they come home exhausted and feel like they can’t go on anymore, someone will tell them to ganbare.

My trip to Japan is, ostensibly, to watch baseball, the Great American Pastime (TM), but I’m more interested in what turned baseball into yakyū. My father once read that if you were to tell a Japanese child that there were McDonald’s restaurants in America, that child would say something like “Wow, they’ve got those there too?” The point being that it is such an ingrained part of their culture that it doesn’t compute that something so Japanese could actually be foreign. I expect seeing baseball in Japan will evoke a similar reaction in me as I marvel at how the game can be so different and exactly the same while retaining a distinctly Yamato flair. Surely no adult Japanese person would think that the game originated on the island, but will they think that they’ve perhaps mastered the purest, best way to play the game?

Really though, that’s enough of all the serious talk, I’m not writing a paper here and I’m sure I’ve bored half of you to death already. Here are some questions (in no particular order) that I hope to get answers to on this trip out to the far east:

1. What do they do during the 7th inning stretch out here?
2. What kinds of crazy foods do they serve at the concession stands?
3. Just how rowdy do the fans get during games?
4. How different is it to fly internationally on a Japanese carrier compared to a domestic carrier?
5. Do cities outside Tokyo get crazy during game releases? At least one major game franchise (Pokémon) will have an iteration released while I’m out, but I won’t be in Tokyo when it comes out.
6. How rock and roll do the Japanese get? If I can, I’m going to try and make it into a show somewhere.
7. Is the fashion at Harajuku as crazy as everyone says it is?
8. Sumo. Great sport or greatest sport?
9. Is Akihabara still the mecca of electronics that it once was?
10. How much cool stuff can I find in a used game store?
11. Is Coco Curry House Ichinbanya still amazing?
12. How long can Dave and I sing in a karaoke box before we’re kicked out to salvage what’s left of the clientele’s hearing?
13. Do I have the nerve to go to a public bath?
14. Is the Japanese train system as punctual and efficient as advertised?
15. What’s the strangest item I can find in a vending machine?
16. Are Japanese arcades really dying?

I’m sure I’ll think of more along the way, but I think this is a good start for now. To those of you out there working hard while I embark upon my expedition into Japanese culture, I have but one word: GANBARE!

EDIT: Now that this travel feature is complete, I thought I’d add a table of contents to help you navigate around.

Part I – Preface
Part II – Journey to the East
Part III – Play Ball!
Part IV – In Which Our Heroes Depart Tokyo for Kyoto
Part V – Temples, Taxis, and the (Hiroshima) Toyo Carp
Part VI – Baseball Off-Day
Part VII – i believe lions
Part VIII – Tokyo Drift
Part IX – It’s a Small World
Part X – Boredom on the Orient Express
Part XI – “That’s my wife. You no touch.”
Part XII – The Curse of the Colonel
Part XIII – Beware the Ninth Ward
Part XIV – The One Where We Miss Darvish
Part XV – Someone’s Got To Be The Worst
Part XVI – Unstoppable Force, Meet Immovable Object
Part XVII – In Which Our Hero Casually Greets Professional Players
Part XVIII – Homeward Bound
Part XIX – Epilogue
Bonus: Jersey Special

P4ER142 [Sony]
Sep 1st, 2009 by Dan

The Endurance Run fuses yet again to take on the murderer!

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P4ER141 [Sony]
Sep 1st, 2009 by Dan

Better late than never, right? Posts may be slow-going for the foreseeable future, but I’ll do my best to update as often as possible.

Charlie and the gang enter Adachi’s dungeon!

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